Troy. The ancient city of legends. Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman to ever live. The Trojan Horse. Achilles. Hector. Immortalized by Homer in the Iliad. Troy.
It’s a funny thing. Just about everyone I talked to said to skip Troy. Even my wife’s Lonely Planet said to skip it since there wasn’t much to see there. Not a chance that was going to happen. I like that Homer was from Izmir. I remember first reading the Iliad during high school detention (I know I was supposed to be sleeping or something). Here I was at last coming to the real life place. I didn’t particularly care if it was boring.
In fact, it wasn’t. It was remarkable. Maybe those other people simply lacked the imagination to recognize that Troy (Troia) was perhaps the most important city in the history of Western Civilization. Not just a city that bridged two continents and connected world trade routes, but a city with more than 5000 years of history behind it. This ancient city that inspired horrible wars and to some extent led to the atrocities of the 20th century.
From where does the name Paris derive? From Troy. The first judge of the first beauty pageant between Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena was named Paris. Athena takes the golden apple prize and gives Paris access to the already married and incredibly hot Helen, then of Sparta. Paris steals her and she becomes Helen of Troy. A ten year war results because her husband wants her back and Agamemnon, the King of Sparta wants Troy.
Great warriors – Hector, Achilles, Odysseus- and then the famous Trojan Horse. The Spartans leave and sail away leaving the giant Trojan Horse as an offering to the Gods. The plainly idiotic Trojans bring the horse inside and have a party. Later, the Spartans hidden in the horse come out after everyone is drunk, light the horse on fire as a signal to the departing ships to return and they open the gates. Rape, pillage, and plunder follow.
How does that make Troy significant? Well, the Trojan Horse is certainly a part of modern language. Both as a gift that has undesired consequences and as a computer virus, but that’s not what I ‘m talking about.
Instead, it is the significance of the story.
No story in our culture, with the possible exception of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran have inspired writers and painters over the centuries more than the Trojan War. It was the fundamental narrative in Greek education. The war has been interpreted as a heroic tragedy, as a fanciful romance, as a satire against warfare, as a love story, as a passionately anti-war tale, and more. The Romans also adopted the story. Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s treatments of the story of Troilus and Cressida are just two examples. Modern writers who have drawn on the literary tradition of this ancient cycle of stories include Sartre (The Flies), O’Neill (Mourning Becomes Electra), Giradoux (Tiger at the Gates), Joyce (Ulysses), Eliot, Auden, and many others.
It is these stories that have shaped our culture and the world we live in. Early European countries all traced their ancestry back to Troy. Western Europe defined itself by the legacy of the Romans and Greeks which largely was transmitted through the stories of Homer and Virgil (and thus through the stories of Troye.) Look at the architecture of post dark-age Europe, of the United States, and of the entire ‘Western World’ and you will see that it was inspired by Greek and Roman thought. Indeed, the very nature of our society was also inspired by these civilizations and more than you would think by the ideas brought forth by Homer in his stories of the Trojan War. This is Troy. Even the brutal crusades used the sacking of Troy as justification for their barbarism, as did Sultan Mehmet who retook the city in 1462.
Now, knowing that, could there be anything less dull than walking over the ground where these events actually took place? Sure, it’s not as well preserved as Ephesus. It’s not as archeologically significant as some other places, but it is Troy. The one and only.
Add to that the fact that it was Troy where modern archeology was born when Heinrich Schlieman, a treasure hunter, decided to find the treasures of Troye in 1871. Schlieman destroyed far more than he found, but he did find his golden treasure and Troy. His big trenches still show how he dug through the remains of eight distinct cities to find his priceless artifacts.
And to make things better, there was almost no one there. Hanane liked the stories when I told them to her, but she stayed busy watching squirrels and gathering almonds from the neglected trees that grow on the ancient and crumbling walls of Troy. We also enjoyed the big Trojan Horse fort, though as the Lonely Planet humorously pointed out, the original probably didn’t have windows. The one along the seashore is probably more like what the original was.
Troy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and admission was 15 Lira each. Getting a dolmus there and back was six Lira each. You can catch the Dolmus under the bridge in Canakkale, it leaves when it is full. On the way back we stopped at the Archeology Museum in Canakkale which I will write about in a post of it’s own since it was well worth the time.